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As US Releases More Prisoners From Guantanamo, Questions Languish Over Those Left Behind

More than a hundred detainees remain in military prison, while many of those named in last year's US Senate torture report remain unaccounted for

Protesters march in front of the White House to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay military prison. (Photo: Greg Foster/flickr/cc)

The United States transferred five Yemeni prisoners out of the Guantánamo Bay military prison on Wednesday, releasing them to Estonia and Oman in the first detainee handover of the year.

Four of them—Al Khadr Abdallah Muhammad al-Yafi, Fadel Hussein Saleh Hentif, Abd al-Rahman Abdullah Au Shabati and Mohammed Ahmed Salam—were sent to Oman. The fifth, Akhmed Abdul Qadir, one of the youngest prisoners at Guantánamo, was sent to Estonia.

Each of them had been held at the prison for at least a dozen years and had been slated for release for almost five years, having been cleared by a task force that comprised intelligence and military officials.

The handover occurred just a day after a number of Republican legislators called for a moratorium on transfers. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John McCain (Ariz.), Richard Burr (N.C.), and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who sit on the Armed Services Committee, invoked the recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris to call for a "time-out" on the transfers, writing in a statement that the detainees pose a risk to American lives.

According to a study published Thursday by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, only 36 of the men who were named in the U.S. Senate's damning CIA torture report last year were sent to Guantánamo after their "interrogations"—and of those 36, only 29 now remain in the prison. One has been recommended for transfer. The rest of those men were either released without charge, handed over to foreign governments, or locked in U.S. military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to TBIJ.

"Even after publication of the CIA Torture Report, we’re none the wiser about the fates of dozens of men the U.S. disappeared," Reprieve strategic director Cori Crider said of the report. "Tracing them and their precise dates in custody does not just honor the dispersed and the dead, it is a crucial part of building a record that, one day hence, may be the cornerstone on which accountability is built."


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The abusive treatment of detainees at the offshore prison received further media attention on Thursday when Joseph Hickman, a Guantánamo staff sergeant and author of Murder at Camp Delta: A Staff Sergeant’s Pursuit of the Truth About Guantánamo Bay, spoke with Democracy Now! about the alleged suicide of three men held at the camp in 2008; as Hickman explains, Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi did not hang themselves, as was reported, but may have been tortured to death on a CIA black site on the base—one Hickman refers to in the interview as "our Auschwitz."

"I knew right away that no one hung themselves in Camp One," Hickman said. "It was completely impossible from my standpoint, from the guards under me that were serving in that area. No one saw any detainees transferred from Camp One to the medical clinic. It just did not happen."

President Barack Obama, who has promised to shut down the military prison since his 2008 campaign, has recently stepped up his closure rhetoric. In 2014, the administration oversaw the transfer of 28 detainees—the most since 2009.

Wednesday's handover still leaves an additional 122 prisoners in Guantánamo, most of whom have not been charged or tried. Protesters stormed Capitol Hill on Monday, marking the 13th anniversary of the military prison's operation, to demand its closure and an end to U.S. torture with impunity.

"We are committed to closing the detention facility. That's our goal, and we are working toward that goal," said Ian Moss, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department on Guantánamo issues.

In his interview with Democracy Now!, Sgt. Hickman highlighted the dissonance between purported American values and their absence at the military prison. "[W]e pride ourselves on human rights and this is ridiculous," Hickman said. "We have a place that breaks so many human rights it is ridiculous. I don’t think there should be a Guantánamo. I think people should be charged for crimes, but I think it should be here in the United States."

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